18 November 2018
Through clever photo opportunities and publicity stunts, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has cultivated a macho image of himself.
Through clever photo opportunities and publicity stunts, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has cultivated a macho image of himself.

Why image is everything for Putin

The key to Vladimir Putin’s high popularity in Russia, notwithstanding the battle in Crimea and the sudden death of his enemies, is his strongman image.

But will the 62-year-old leader be able to maintain this image forever?

Putin has been doing lots of masculine activities to build his strongman image. He flies fighter aircraft, he goes hunting and he also dives. The former KGB spy is also known for being a Judo expert.

In 2008, Putin even led the army in the front line during the Russo-Georgian War. In 2011, his spokesperson said Putin had found some Greek antiques underwater.

Sergei Kalenik, a Russian cartoonist, even portrays Putin in his work as a superhero fighting terrorists.

The problem is, superheroes do not grow old, but Putin will.

In 2010, some Western media wondered if Putin had gone through plastic surgery to look younger.

In the real world, Putin is far from being good at everything.

About five years ago, the Russian leader played piano and sang during a charity dinner, but he was widely mocked for his poor skills.

In 2013, Putin visited a secondary school and drew a cat on the blackboard. As he was about to leave, a student suddenly asked Putin what he actually intended to draw.

Putin has been suppressing homosexual communities in Russia. Since 2013, public kissing by same-sex couples was outlawed in the country.

But a Russian scholar has written that Putin’s moves are just publicity ploy and that he may actually be gay.

Still, to Russian people, Putin is their paramount leader.

In a study released in December 2014, Putin’s popularity (85 percent) was higher than that of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev (63 percent) as well as that of the Russian Government (60 percent) by a huge margin. The figures show that Putin is more popular than the entire ruling regime.

Actually, Putin’s popularity slipped from about 80 percent in 2010 to about 65 percent in 2013, but later recovered after the battle in Crimea.

If Putin loses his popularity, that won’t be just a personal crisis, but potentially the crisis of Russia too.

Image is important to an elected leader. To a strongman, it is even more so.

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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